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Opioid Drugs

Former Insys Physician Speaker Says He ‘Made a Terrible Mistake’

— November 8, 2019

Doctor will spend time behind bars for involvement in Insys’ Speakers Bureau scam.

Todd Schlifstein, a physician formerly known for relieving patients’ chronic pain, was sentenced to two years in prison for accepting kickbacks in the form of speaker fees Insys Therapeutics, the company that manufacturers the highly addicted and high-priced opioid painkiller Subsys.  When it was introduced in the U.S. in 2012, the drug cost between $3,000 and $16,000 a month.

Schlifstein was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood, appointed to the bench by former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy.  He was also ordered to pay $127,100, the amount of money he received.  Wood said a prison sentence “was necessary because it is what doctors in the future will take into account before deciding whether to join a similar conspiracy.”

Former Insys Physician Speaker Says He 'Made a Terrible Mistake'
Photo by Ilyass SEDDOUG on Unsplash

Schlifstein was one of five doctors in New York who were charged after their involvement in the speaking engagement scheme in which Insys bribed physicians to prescribe millions of dollars’ worth of the fentanyl spray.  Prosecutors have stated that Subsys is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.  It was approved as a pain reliever for cancer patients but was incorrectly prescribed for years.  Subsys was meant to be last option for those who with a cancer diagnosis who had grown tolerant of other opioids.

The “Speakers Bureau” was originally created with a stated purpose of educating clinicians about the fentanyl spray, but it was ultimately used to get doctors to prescribe large volumes of Subsys to patients that really didn’t need it by paying them handsomely.  Court documents suggested that Schlifstein prescribed “enough of the fentanyl-based drug, Subsys, to account for more than $2 million in net sales for Insys.”

Prosecutors contend that members of the bureau collected tens of thousands of dollars from the company over a four-year stretch beginning in August 2012.  Insys agreed to a $225 million settlement with the Department of Justice to resolve a civil and criminal investigation.  It filed Chapter 11 over the summer.  The company also has new board directors, “a new management team and employees committed to a culture of compliance, ethics and integrity, all aligned around a vision focused on the interests of patients.  Suits involving the company mostly pertain to allegations of past misdeeds by former employees,” it declared in a previously released statement.

In court papers, prosecutors said “Schlifstein was seeking to become an Insys speaker in October 2013 when he met with one of the company’s executives at a dinner that was supposed to be a fellow doctor’s speaker program.”  They continued, “The dinner, which didn’t include any educational presentation, was followed by a trip by the group to a strip club Schlifstein frequented where everyone rang up a $4,100 bill at the pharmaceutical company’s expense for drinks, a private room and lap dances.”

At sentencing, Schlifstein showed remorse for his decisions.  He said he had made “a terrible mistake” and added “I’ll be embarrassed for the rest of my life.  It’s been devastating on my life in every way possible.  Career’s done.  Financially destroyed.”


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